This blog is devoted to highlighting restaurants of Memphis, Tennessee.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hattie B's Hot Chicken

Hot Mess!

During my latest visit to Nashville, I got around to eating some of the city's authentic cuisine. I want to stress the word "authentic" because my last experience fell short of that. A year and a half ago, I attended my first beer and food pairing at Downtown Memphis' Flying Saucer that Yazoo Brewery hosted. In an effort to promote its hometown, the host served a sample of Nashville's famous "hot chicken." It made a fair impression, for the breading was overcooked and not nearly as spicy as West Tennessee's Gus's (it's not just a Memphis thing). To be fair, the low spiciness could have been intentional in order to broadly appeal to the guests. Of course, that makes as much sense as going to a nudie bar to see a person strip to only his/her undies. My feeling is if you're promoting something representative of your city and/or culture to others, don't do it half-ass. I'm sure most would have appreciated the effort as Memphis is known for its spicy foods. Despite the lackluster chicken, I enjoyed the overall experience and hope to do it again. In the meantime, I yearned for a true "hot chicken" experience, something that eventually came to fruition.
If my memory of the food/beer pairing session is correct, I believe the host told the story behind the poultry staple. In short, it was the result of a scorned woman getting back at her man (Thornton Prince, the original owner of Prince's Hot Chicken Shack) by cooking him some extra spicy fried chicken. Instead of becoming angry, he liked it and made it for others, eventually starting a restaurant that exists today. That's a crazy story with a happy ending of sorts, and far better than poisoning or the girlfriend going "Lorena Bobbitt" on him. Nearly eighty years later, "hot chicken" is a favorite among Nashvillians that I experienced firsthand as opposed to a bastardized version from a Memphis beer parlor.
In planning for my visit, I studied the menu for potential meals that fit my budget. After looking it over, I decided to get the "Large Dark" plate that the restaurant's website describes as "2 THIGHS & LEG." However, the plate that I got was two huge quarter pieces of dark meat with sides of collard greens and macaroni & cheese. Seeing this was intimidating, for it was more than I wanted. So without a wing (or rather "leg") man, I undertook the enormous challenge.


The "hot chicken" at Hattie B's was quite different from what I had earlier. Unlike Yazoo's version, Hattie B's chicken was drenching in hot sauce. It was so excessive that I probably used half of a roll of paper towels just to stay neat. Compared to most hot wing joints, Hattie B's is very liberal when it comes to the sauce. If this is custom for "hot chicken," I'll bring wet naps whenever I decide to do this again.
I was also surprised by the amount of breading used to cook the chicken. Along with Church's and a few other places, Hattie B's use of breading is far more than I'm accustomed to. Combined with the hot sauce, the breading could have been a meal on its own.
In terms of taste, the aroma of the chicken (atop white bread and capped with pickles, which is traditional for this dish) was very strong. Probably the result of a lot of cayenne seasoning, the taste hit my senses like a hammer. With "hot" being the operative word, the chicken lived up to its namesake. Compared to Yazoo's presentation, Hattie B's made a better impression for it was very spicy, tasty and satisfying. By the way, the chicken wasn't a version of hot wings that most are familiar with. The chicken's spiciness had a bitter, harder edge than most wing sauces (maybe it lacks vinegar). I can't identify all the ingredients in the chicken, but it is distinctive from the average "hot wing." For me, the particulars didn't matter as long as it was good, which was what I felt about it.
The side items were decent by most standards. The collard greens (called "Southern Greens" by the restaurant) tasted about the same as most Soul Food and Southern restaurants. The pimento mac & cheese was thick and very creamy, which are qualities that most will appreciate. Both side items went well with the spicy "hot chicken."
You might find this hard to believe, but the best thing that I had at Hattie B's is something that the restaurant doesn't make. In fact, it was something that I didn't plan on getting. However, because of Nashville's growing reputation for craft beers, decided that it was worth looking into. Instead of water, I got a Boro Blonde from Murfreesboro-based Mayday Brewery. The blonde ale has, according to the brewery's website, "a light citrus aroma with a touch of fruit (thanks to the Glacier and Crystal hops with a twist of New Zealand hops)." My take on it is that the citrusy and slightly hoppy flavors are well balanced, making for a very delicious beer that I hope to see in Memphis soon. I want to thank the woman who took my order for recommending this beer. The Boro Blonde's slightly sweet flavor is a perfect match for Hattie B's "hot chicken."

SIDE NOTE: I'm sure some of my Facebook "friends" are wondering why I'm reviewing something that I swore to give up. Since my pledge to stop excessive drinking, I've decided it was better to address the issues driving the behavior rather than the act itself. In dealing with personal issues, I believe that I've gotten to a better place in life that will allow me to responsibly enjoy one of my favorite passions. It took the risk of losing good friends (including a special one) to make me get my act together, but I'm finally coming around. Nothing, including a very good blonde ale, is worth jeopardizing friendships over.

To sum it up, my experience at Hattie B's was very nice. The "hot chicken" lived up to its reputation for spiciness and was very good. However, it will never take the place of traditional fried chicken that I'm accustomed to. With a West Tennessee bias, I will always prefer chicken from places like Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken (which has a restaurant in Nashville) that is spicy (but not to the degree of "hot chicken") without the messiness of sauce. That said, I wouldn't mind having "hot chicken" occasionally, especially if I'm drinking an excellent beer with it. Although it won't inspire me to write a rap song, it will have me singing its praises.

Now In Memphis

Last month, Hattie B's opened a new restaurant in Memphis, at 596 S. Cooper. Since its opening, the popular chicken joint has hosted hundreds of people yearning for a taste of its famous Nashville Hot Chicken. Fortunately, I stopped by on a day when Hattie B's didn't have people waiting to enter and managed in engage in fowl play. Although I typically go for dark meat whenever I order chicken, I changed it up by ordering the Small White ("SM WHITE"), which is a chicken quarter consisting of a breast and wing. Choosing the same spicy option as before, the "hot" sauce and the tender juiciness of the chicken breast meshed well for a very flavorful experience. This time around, the chicken's breading wasn't nearly as excessive so I didn't get a meal within a meal. However, the enormous breast and wing made for a sufficient amount of chicken (and unlike my Nashville visit, I didn't get a double order).



By the way, I don't want to neglect the wing, which was also tasty and could give wing joints like Ching's some serious competition. For sides, I got fries and cole slaw that were decent but not up to par with the chicken. However, because my table wasn't completely cleaned off when I sat down, I also got condiments left by the previous diners. While the blue cheese dressing was average, I was impressed with the ranch sauce's strong vinegar flavor that could make for a very tangy dipping sauce for chicken wings, fries or whatever you're eating at Hattie B's.
In eating all of this food, I probably could have washed it down with water, but being the consistent blogger that I am, opted for beer instead. Like Hattie B's other restaurants, the Memphis location has a decent selection of beers to choose from, including some from local brewers. So, in the spirit of consistency, I chose the Fireside, an Amber ale brewed by Memphis Made Brewing Company. This turned out to being better choice than the Blonde ale I drank during my Nashville visit, for the spiciness of the chicken goes very well with the malty flavor (with a hint of hops) of the rustic Amber ale. The Fireside is very robust on its own and good in any setting, including Memphis Made's tap room that is a few blocks south of Hattie B's in the trendy and hip Cooper-Young neighborhood.
Overall, I really enjoyed my latest visit to Hattie B's. Given the amount of interest in the place, I believe it is a great addition to Memphis and will be very successful. By the way, some people have compared Hattie B's to Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken which doesn't make sense. Until Gus's start slapping hot sauce on its chicken, comparing it to Hattie B's is like making a comparison between meringue pie and cheesecake. Although both are sweet, they are not one in the same. The same can be said for traditional fried chicken and Nashville Hot Chicken, so comparing the two is intellectual laziness. You can love both if you appreciate good regardless of what it is, so as a non-Nashvillian foodie, I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Hattie B's.

I Want Give A Shout Out To...

Just like with fried chicken, you can't compare Hattie B's with barbecue chicken, something I had during a visit to the Moody Ques at the 2018 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (aka "BBQ Fest"). I want to congratulate the barbecue team for winning seventh place in the Shoulder category, a major accomplishment at the world premier barbecue contest. If the pork shoulder was as good as the chicken thighs I had, it's no surprise that the Moody Ques were successful. Of course, an accomplishment like winning high honors at a barbecue fest isn't easy, and it takes all out effort that's based on good leadership that the "Ques" lacked in the past. While I won't lament on the team's past failures, I will say this year was totally different. With my friend and new team president "John D" leading the team, the Moody Ques functioned like a well oiled machine and was up to the task at the BBQ Fest. Of course, even "John D" will admit it was a team effort with team treasurer Misty running things like a BOSS! So again, I want to congratulate them on their success and thank them for inviting me to share in the experience.

Websites:
    Hattie B's Hot Chicken: HattieB.com
    Mayday Brewery: MaydayBrewery.com
    Memphis Made: MemphisMadeBrewing.com
    Moody Ques: MoodyQues.com

Hattie B's Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

LabelsBeer, Chain Restaurants, Commentary, Fried Chicken, Midtown, Nashville, Soul Food, Southern, Wings







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